Thursday, January 22, 2009

To grammatically write

Why did Chief Justice Bald Spot mess up Obama's oath of office? Was it to slightly spoil the Obama sound bite (that would otherwise be played ad nauseam for the rest of human history)? Was it to subtly draw people's attention to Article II of the Constitution (a passage that is sorely under-read by schoolchildren)? Or was it for some other nefarious purpose?

According to Harvard know-it-all Steven Pinker (incidentally, a man who looks like an old lesbian), Robert flubbed the oath because of his aversion to split verbs. Pinker notes that the oath, as written in the Constitution, splits the verb "will execute" by the addition of the word "faithfully." As Pinker notes:

Instead of having Barack Obama “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States,” Chief Justice Roberts had him “solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.” When Mr. Obama paused after “execute,” the chief justice prompted him to continue with “faithfully the office of president of the United States.”
Why did this happen? As Pinker points out, some legal style manuals tend to strictly adhere to a rule against split verbs. Presumably, Roberts's legal training has rendered him unable to read aloud bad grammar.

Except, Pinker also has some good news (especially for Fosco's students): split verbs are not bad grammar. In fact, they're often the best way to adequately express a thought:
Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that [many split-verb] corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing. The myth originated centuries ago in a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive because it consists of a single word, like dicere, “to say.” But in English, infinitives like “to go” and future-tense forms like “will go” are two words, not one, and there is not the slightest reason to interdict adverbs from the position between them.
Thank you, Steven Pinker. From now on, Fosco will happily split his verbs.

Extra Credit: Fosco intentionally used six split verbs in this post (not including the obviously awkward title). Did you notice them?

Extra Extra Credit: Identify every time Fosco UNintentionally splits a verb in any (or all!) of his previous posts.

Extra Extra Extra Credit: Buy Fosco a book. Right now, he could use pretty much any novel in French. Contact Todd for Fosco's address.

1 comment:

Oz said...

"to slightly spoil"
"would otherwise be played"
"to subtly draw"
"to strictly adhere"
"to adequately express"
"will happily split"

yes, Oz has time on his hands... plenty...